Pakistan are in with a chance

2013-01-27 10:00

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Visitors have the bowlers to challenge SA, but the Proteas’ attack could expose their fragile batting, writes Khanyiso Tshwaku

Junaid Khan is not Wasim Akram and it is doubtful he will come close to matching the old king of swing.

Nor will Mohammad Irfan become a left-handed Joel Garner, but with Graeme Smith’s known weakness against left-arm swing and seam, an intriguing battle is on the cards.

Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq said he knows how important his bowlers will be in any challenge against the Proteas.

“Junaid will enjoy these conditions and if he can put the ball in the right areas, Mohammad will do well. Saeed Ajmal, who is one of the best bowlers in the world, will also enjoy these conditions, especially if he gets turn and bounce on days four and five,” said the captain.

“They will play a key role in our campaign but we really have to bat well because it is a challenge scoring runs here when you are from the subcontinent.”

One thing is for certain: Pakistan will be a stiffer challenge than New Zealand.

The inelegant but effective Misbah may be on the wrong side of 35, but he has been as level-headed a Pakistani captain as his unrelated namesake Inzamam.

After the turbulent reigns of spot fixer Salman Butt and the indecisive Mohammad Yousuf, Misbah has provided leadership not seen since the patriarchal hand of Imran Khan.

Misbah’s leadership has stabilised a side known for its mercurial and temperamental edge, gaining a 3-0 test win over then number one side England in the United Arab Emirates.

It was a win based on Junaid’s swing, Ajmal’s offspin and Abdur Rehman’s unerring accuracy.

These three pillars will buttress the team but the batting could be their weakness.

It will provide a challenge Pakistan’s young batsmen have not been required to face and, more importantly, will map out what life after Misbah may be like for the team.

Pakistan coach Dav Whatmore admitted that a six-year absence from South Africa and a lack of proper match practice in bouncing tracks will test his young batsmen.

“The slightly hard bounce and the pace might be a little more than normal but, if we get over those, there are pretty good batting conditions,” said Whatmore.

“If our youngsters get over that, good times lie ahead.”

Vernon Philander vs Taufeeq Umar

Philander has had plenty of success, especially against left-handers, but when it comes to technical solidity, Umar is the best on the subcontinent.

He prospered on his last trip to South Africa, scoring 280 runs in four innings despite Pakistan being pummelled by 10 wickets and an innings in the two-test series prior to the 2003 World Cup.

That was a long time ago, but he’s provided Pakistan with comfort at the top, something they have not had since Saeed Anwar and Aamir Sohail.

Philander’s probing lines and nagging accuracy will test him.

Younus Khan vs Dale Steyn

Pakistan’s best No?3 batsman has weathered all the storms and is still standing.

His test match form has been on the wane, but he will have to anchor Pakistan’s batting order.

This will most probably be his last tour to South Africa, but he seems to be suspect against swing bowling.

It is a weakness Dale Steyn has exploited and will look to do so again. Khan has been formidable against the Proteas on the subcontinent, but that has never been a guarantee for scoring runs in the republic.

Graeme Smith vs left-arm bowlers

The South African captain has prospered against all comers, but he has a perennial weakness against left-arm bowling.

His failure to score a test century against India is down to Zaheer Khan’s supremacy.

Mohammad Irfan is different, but he offers steep bounce and seam movement, which is harder to counter than swing. Then there is the threat of Junaid Khan, who swings the older ball. Double trouble?

Faf du Plessis vs Saeed Ajmal

Ajmal’s credentials have not been tested away from home, but it is certain he will come face to face with Du Plessis.

AB de Villiers may be South Africa’s best player of spin, but a clash with Du Plessis is a mouthwatering prospect.

Du Plessis made a barnstorming start to test cricket against a variety of bowling styles, but not against anything as various as what Pakistan can offer in one attack force.

If South Africa’s top order fails, the onus will again be on Du Plessis to salvage the innings.

Asad Shafiq vs Morné Morkel

Pakistan’s number six spot has also been a talking point, but Asad Shafiq looks the most talented of the bunch.

He has a limited range of strokes, but what sets him apart is his ability against the short ball.

It was honed on the subcontinent, but there is no better place to test it than South Africa.

Morné Morkel will be the chief examiner and, with a new-found consistency and thriftiness, survival against him has become the premium.

Shafiq can attack when the need arises and will hold the key to a competitive total, provided he stays in.

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